Subject: SMH: Killing pushes UN to drop plan for early withdrawal

Sydney Morning Herald July 26, 2000 Killing pushes UN to drop plan for early withdrawal

By MARK RILEY, Herald Correspondent in New York

The United Nations had begun closed-door discussions with key diplomats to bring forward the withdrawal of peacekeepers from East Timor before the death of a New Zealand soldier in a gun battle on Monday.

Those plans, which diplomats say would have seen a gradual withdrawal begin before the end of the year, were immediately shelved when news of the killing came through.

Diplomatic sources said an early withdrawal was now politically impossible, and the UN would instead beef up its presence in areas along the West Timor border, where armed militia are known to be hiding.

One Western diplomat involved in the private discussions said meetings had begun after a recent visit to the UN's New York headquarters by the head of the UN Administration in East Timor, Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello.

He told senior members of the UN secretariat that the security situation in the territory was now stable and that planning should begin to bring forward the mission's withdrawal.

It is understood Mr Vieira de Mello has been lobbying to move to another high-placed UN position, possibly in Geneva.

The diplomat said the discussions involved representatives of several Security Council member states, including the United States.

"There is no doubt that the plan has been dropped for the present," the diplomat said.

"It would be absolutely unacceptable to begin talking publicly about winding back the peacekeeping effort when soldiers are being killed."

A spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, Mr Kofi Annan, confirmed that the assessed security threat across East Timor had been downgraded to low in many areas before Monday's shooting.

The head of the UN peacekeeping department, Mr Bernard Miyet, is due to deliver an updated report on East Timor to the Security Council tomorrow.

The UN spokesman said it had been intended for the report to reveal an improving security situation. It was being rewritten yesterday to show a vastly different story.

The Security Council has issued a mandate for peacekeepers to remain in East Timor until at least the end of January, and has indicated the mission could be extended in a reduced form for up to a year after that.

The timetable suggested after Mr Vieira De Mello's recent New York visit would have brought that plan forward significantly.

Diplomatic sources said the plan for an expedited withdrawal had been immediately embraced by the UN's peacekeeping department, which is facing an international manning crisis. The department has suffered deep staffing and funding cuts under a restructuring of the UN administration.

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